What We Saw: Week 16

It was a big week for young WRs

Rams @ Vikings

Final Score: Rams 30, Vikings 23

Writer: Benjamin Haller (@benjaminhaller1 on Twitter)

 

Christmas spirit was alive and well in Minneapolis as the Minnesota Vikings welcomed the Los Angeles Rams in a key matchup for the NFC playoff picture. Finn the Corgi stole the show at the half after a war of attrition in the opening two quarters as both Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford struggled to find rhythm against two defenses that came ready to play.

 

Cousins and the Vikings offense couldn’t get anything going on the ground in the first half without Dalvin Cook, who was out due to COVID protocols. Through the air, it was a similar story as Cousins threw a red zone interception after the ball bounced up off the hands of second-year receiver K.J. Osborn on a pass he should have caught.

It was a similar story for Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had just 120 yards at the half despite attempting 25 passes. Stafford threw a dreadful interception inside his own 15-yard line late in the quarter but the Vikings could only come away with a field goal. Sony Michel was the stand out player on offense, notching 61 yards on the ground including the game’s only touchdown in the first half.

The second half continued the same narrative โ€“ both defenses making plays and impeding the opposition quarterback on every drive. Stafford threw his second interception deep in his own territory, Anthony Barr once again coming up with the ball. This time Alexander Mattison punched the ball in to make it a three point game. The Rams answered back in dramatic fashion…

 

A one-score game going into the fourth quarter, the Vikings’ season was on the line and the Rams could sniff clinching a playoff berth. It was an explosive, dramatic, and exciting final period of play.

First, the Rams got lucky with a non-reviewable play in which Cooper Kupp looked to have lost the ball after Cameron Dantzler stripped it from him but he had already incorrectly been ruled out of bounds. Stafford then led an 11-play, 75-yard drive that Odell Beckham Jr. finished off. Cousins hit back immediately with his own 7-play, 75-yard drive to bring it back within seven points. But the Rams moved the chains twice on third down, Kupp doing the damage on both of those plays as the Rams ran the clock down and made it a two-score game just prior to the two-minute warning. The Vikings couldn’t respond and the Rams recovered a late onside kick to seal the victory and their place in the playoffs.

 

Los Angeles Rams

 

Quarterback

 

Matthew Stafford: 21/37, 193 yards, TD, 3 INT | 2 carries, 9 yards

 

Matthew Stafford is a lucky, lucky boy. The Rams quarterback survived three interceptions and a generally poor outing to eek out the win and he had his team’s defense and Sony Michel to thank. Stafford was the Vikings best chance of points through the first three quarters of this game and his frailty under pressure remains a big weakness. This bizarre throw on third down prior to the end of the half should have resulted in a pick-six but Anthony Barr could not keep his feet.

 

Stafford was still giving out chances for the non-existent Vikings offense to come back into the game in the second half. He turned the ball over on back-to-back possessions to start the second half but once again the Vikings failed to capitalize. Barr once again pulling off a remarkable play for the INT.

 

Still, Stafford had a key part to play in preserving the victory in the fourth quarter. He engineered an 11-play 75-yard touchdown drive and a 13-play, 69-yard drive that resulted in a field goal in the fourth quarter. More importantly those drives took over 10 minutes of the clock, preventing the Vikings from completing an unlikely comeback.

 

Running Back

 

Sony Michel: 27 carries, 131 yards, TD | 4 targets, 1 receptions, 4 yards

Darrell Henderson Jr.: 1 carry, 17 yards

Jake Funk: 1 carry, -1 yards

 

It was a career day for the once-and-future king of the Patriots backfield, Sony Michel. The New England cast-off went off for 131 yards and an early score as he ground down the clock in the second half when Stafford and his moribund passing offense struggled. Michel now has over 420 yards in his last four games and is entrenched as the lead back for the Rams.

 

Darrell Henderson Jr. was a complete afterthought in the first half as Michel received all 20 touches out of the backfield before Henderson broke off a 17-yard burst on his first carry early in the third quarter. However, Henderson immediately pulled up in pain and was ruled out with a knee injury on his next snap. A tough break for the talented back.

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

Cooper Kupp: 13 targets, 10 receptions, 109 yards

Tyler Higbee: 6 targets, 5 receptions, 41 yards

Odell Beckham Jr.: 8 targets, 4 reception, 37 yards, TD

Van Jefferson: 6 targets, 1 reception, 6 yards

 

After a quiet night on the most part for Cooper Kupp, he came alive when his team needed him in the fourth quarter breaking off for a 37-yard gain to move the Rams into Vikings territory. It took Kupp over 100 yards once again and allowed the Rams to eat the clock and stretch their lead to 10 points with only 2:03 remaining in the game. Check the missed holding call on D.J. Wonnum up the middle, though. It was a lucky night for the Rams.

 

Stafford had a rough night but did manage to punish the Vikings in the second half as the Rams extended their lead to 14 points after an impressive drive that finished with Stafford finding Odell Beckham Jr. in the end zone. The much-maligned receiver showing exactly why he isn’t the role model most coaches want on their team by breaking out the Griddy dance in Minnesota.

 

Tight end Tyler Higbee did all his work early in this one, recording three of his five catches on the first couple of drives as the Rams peppered the short ball underneath to test the Vikings linebackers. They had no joy and Higbee ended up blocking for the run game most of the night.

 

Minnesota Vikings

 

Quarterback

 

Kirk Cousins: 27/38, 315 yards, TD, INT, 3 sacks | 4 carries, 17 yards

 

As has become customary for anyone who has watched all the Vikings games this season, you won’t be surprised to know that this offense averaged 2.6 per carry and went a miserly 1-of-7 on third down on their first five drives in one of the most important games of this season. Kirk Cousins is a factor in the why but not the only one. Poor play calling, mistakes from the receivers, and questionable strategy all hurt the Vikings in this one. K.J Osborn failing to hold onto this catch was a game-changing play, sucking the early momentum out of Klint Kubiak‘s game plan.

 

It was Cousins’ only red zone interception of the season but a terrible time to throw it. Cousins made up for it in the second half with a lovely 7-play, 75-yard drive where he went back to Osborn for the score.

 

It’s the same old story for Cousins โ€“ good, sometimes great but never elite.

 

Running Back

 

Alexander Mattison: 13 carries, 41 yards, TD | 4 targets, 3 receptions, 29 yards

Kene Nwangu: 5 carries, 8 yards | 2 targets, 2 receptions, 5 yards

C.J. Ham: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 13 yards

 

Alexander Mattison is not Dalvin Cook but he is a good back who can lead an offense. However, today the Vikings needed Cook. The other deciding factor was the unbelievable defensive line play of Aaron Donald. He was in vintage wrecking crew form today.

 

Generally benefitting from short yardage due to three Rams turnovers, Mattison finally managed to hit pay dirt with a 2-yard run to bring the Vikings within 3 points midway through the third quarter. However, with Minnesota playing catch up for most of this contest, Mattison found himself off the field on third-and-long situations harming his fantasy output.

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

Justin Jefferson: 12 targets, 8 receptions, 116 yards

K.J. Osborn: 7 targets, 5 receptions, 68 yards, TD

Tyler Conklin: 5 targets, 4 receptions, 44 yards

Adam Thielen: 3 targets, 3 receptions, 40 yards

 

The football world is running out of superlatives to throw at Justin Jeffersonย after another outstanding performance against the best cornerback in the NFL, Jalen Ramsay. Both had wins in this tasty matchup but Jefferson by far and away won the day as he put the moves on Ramsay a number of times. He even broke tight coverage on the touchdown throw that eventually went to Osborn. It was a joy to watch the two go at it.

 

Despite being marshalled well by Jalen Ramsayย for most of this contest, Jefferson broke the 100-yard receiving barrier for the sixth time this season as he once again catapulted a stuttering offense forward to keep them in the contest.

 

The Vikings welcomed back Adam Thielen after a few weeks out with a high ankle sprain. The veteran receiver was involved immediately in the red zone, catching two balls to to put his team near the goal line. Unfortunately, he reaggravated that same injury after taking a hit low on this play. He was clearly frustrated and although he remained in uniform he failed to return to the game.

 

K.J. Osborn notched yet another touchdown and put up FLEX fantasy numbers once again. He is a breakout candidate for 2022 if this offense can learn to be aggressive and execute consistently.

 

Benjamin Haller (@benjaminhaller1 on Twitter)

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